'New Constitution spurred increased litigation'

HARARE - THE adoption of the 2013 Constitution into law, replacing a 33-year-old document forged in the dying days of British colonial rule, spurred a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of several subsidiary legislation, outgoing Chief Justice (CJ) Godfrey Chidyausiku has said.

“The new Constitution initially spurred increased litigation in the Constitutional Court, where the figures show a steady increase before declining in 2016,” Chidyausiku said during the opening of the 2017 legal year on Monday.

“In 2014, a total of 88 constitutional applications were filed with the court. This peaked to 101 in 2015, before dropping to 78 applications in 2016.

“Prior to the new Constitution, on average the Constitutional Court would deal with less than 20 cases per year.”

Nearly 95 percent of voters in a referendum approved the new charter, which was backed by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, political rival who was forced into a power-sharing deal after disputed elections in 2008.

The new Constitution has an expanded Bill of Rights which now includes social rights which were hitherto ignored in the previous Constitution; has provisions on education, health, housing and social welfare which are in line with the universal human rights, and significantly curbs presidential powers and strengthens Cabinet and Parliament, which had been weakened under Mugabe’s rule.

In his speech, Chidyausiku, did not review whether the Constitutional Court backlog which stood at 146 applications at the end of 2015 had been arrested by the end of 2016.

Owing to the transitional provisions in the new Constitution, judges of the Supreme Court will double as the judges of the Constitutional Court.

Accordingly, in the first seven years of the new Constitution, the Supreme Court judges will continue to hear constitutional cases.

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